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The Ford Model A was Henry Ford’s first modern car, by the standards of the late 1920s when it was introduced. Henry Ford’s first barnstorming success, the Model T, while an impressive application of mass-production, had become dated towards the end of its 19 year production run. When introduced, the T wasn’t especially remarkable, but it was inexpensive and well made. A Ford Model T was what was needed at the time, rugged and affordable transportation; most cars of the time of the T’s introduction were neither of these. It sold well, but the Model T would gradually be outclassed by competitors offering modern drivetrains, inexpensive closed bodies, and refinement. Customers were now looking beyond basic transportation, and Ford’s competitors were taking notice. Chevrolet was working on six cylinder engines, in 1924 Oakland had introduced the world’s first low-price closed car, and Chrysler’s own low-priced make, Plymouth, was to launch in 1928. The simplicity and ubiquitousness that had been the appeal of the Model T was now working against it, as customers who could now afford to spend more, did so. Henry Ford had been a visionary with his Model T, but had grown increasingly out-of-touch with his customers and engineers. Times and demands changed, and after 19 years the Model T had outlived its usefulness, and a new, sleeker, faster, and more substantial car was needed.
The new Ford, called the Model A, a new start at the beginning of the alphabet, was unveiled December 11, 1927 to much anticipation and speculation. 10 million people reportedly stood in line at dealerships to see the A, an estimated 25 million saw it in its first week. The Model A was thoroughly modern with a 40 bhp 200.5 cid 4-cyl engine, 3-speed sliding-gear manual transmission, four-wheel mechanical drum brakes, hydraulic shock absorbers, and modern body construction. The A was an improvement over the Model T in nearly every way. The car was more expensive, but it had a top speed of up to 65 mph compared to the 45 to 55 a T was capable of, it was better suited for modern roads and high-speed cruising, featured conventional controls, and had much improved ignition and cooling systems. The Model A was available in a variety of body styles, ranging from roadsters and phaetons, to trucks, to 2 and 4-door closed sedans. This particular car is a 1931 Ford Model A Sport Coupe, body code 50-B. It cost $500 ($7,924 in 2018 dollars), compared to $430 for a standard roadster and $590 for “Fordor” 4-door Sedan. 315,550 Model A Sport Coupes were made, 302,992 US and 12,558 foreign made. This car is has landau top complete with landau bars, but is not a convertible. The style was inspired by folding top landau carriages. The car has room for two inside, plus a folding rumble seat in the rear deck lid.
The new Ford would be named the Model A. Like the T, it was designed from the ground up to meet the needs of its new era, and it was produced as Ford’s sole model. In all of Ford’s plants, the changeover for the new car began in the spring of 1927; six months later the first Model A was produced on October 21, 1927. This process, the largest and most expensive of its type in the history of industry until this point, is estimated to have cost Ford anywhere from $100 to $250 million. The biggest individual process in this changeover was the new River Rouge plant. Work on the River Rouge plant began in 1917, but automobile production was delayed until 1927. Before automobile production, River Rouge built anti-submarine boats for the US Navy, as well as Fordson tractors and Model T components. The River Rouge plant covered 900 acres on the shores of the River Rouge Southwest of Detroit. The river, wide but shallow, was dredged and reshaped to allow barges to deliver the thousands of tons of materials required for the complete assembly of Ford vehicles. The River Rouge complex was set apart by its manufacturing capabilities, as well as its sheer size. The factory was equipped to produce its own iron and steel, make both glass and cement, repair its own stock of locomotives and railcars, and generate its own power. Ford wished to relinquish its dependence on parts suppliers by taking in raw materials directly and producing all components on site. At its peak in March of 1929, River Rouge would produce over 9,000 cars a day.
- Final year for Model A
- 20 millionth Ford produced during 1931
- Price new: $500
- 19,700 sport coupes built in 1931, total production: 541,615